3 Ways for Entrepreneurs to Overcome Adversity

3 Ways for Entrepreneurs to Overcome Adversity

There are a lot of pluses to working for yourself and then, if you decide to grow a company, to leading others. But there might come a time when factors outside your control - whether seismic like a global pandemic or a collection of smaller issues - threaten to overwhelm you and make you question yourself and your mission. In this article, we'll introduce three ways that you can stand firm, recommit, and keep pushing forward when things get tough. 

  • Ride out the Lows

The Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote that “The wise man is neither raised up by prosperity nor cast down by adversity.” For our purposes, we could paraphrase this quote by suggesting that you don’t let your high points make you so giddy with success that you stop grinding, or allow your lows to create despair, inertia, or apathy. Instead, it’s better to recognize that life follows a wavy pattern rather than a linear one, that setbacks – while undesirable – are inevitable, and that in certain seasons, tough times will be the order of the day. They’re not something to fear or avoid but, if you maintain the right attitude, have a powerful part to play in forming you into a resilient, unshakeable entrepreneur and leader.

In his book The Passion Paradox that he co-wrote with Outside contributing editor Brad Stulberg, Steve Magness shared a rule he had for his runners while coaching track at the University of Houston: “After a competition, the athlete has twenty-four hours to celebrate or ruminate about his performance. After two days, however, it’s back to the grind, putting in the work required to get better. After a poor performance, getting back to work silences the voice in his head. After a triumphant performance, getting back to work prevents complacency from laying down even a single root.”

One way to minimize the negative effects of adversity and keep up the momentum you’d built before calamity struck is to come up with consistent daily routines and habits. These will enable you to build in time for the two-part process Magness and Stulberg recommended: honest reflection on yourself and your circumstances, followed by a swift return to the fray. Even if you’re unable to solve a pressing problem right away, you can at least decide to make progress in other areas. If the issue impacts the rest of your team, simply showing up and putting forth your best effort will send a message that there’s a calm hand at the wheel and that there’s no reason for anyone to panic.

  • Remind Yourself of the Upside

When one problem strikes your solo venture or small business, it’s all too easy to go looking for more. And much like a mechanic poking around in your car’s engine if you report a weird rattling noise, you’ll likely find something. Soon this fault-finding can snowball until you become buried in an avalanche of negativity, gloominess, and self-doubt. In his book The Soul of an Entrepreneur, veteran reporter David Sax states a harsh but very real truth: “Working for myself has always been immensely difficult. It vacillates between the dread of not having enough work and the stress of having too much. Entrepreneurship is a daily experience of going to war with my ego, where I dive into an idea with the upmost optimism in the morning (‘This is a brilliant idea!’), only to wrap myself in a blanket of self-hatred by the afternoon (‘You are a fraud’).”

Sound familiar? As Sax alluded to, being an entrepreneur can often involve a rollercoaster revenue stream, periods of feast and famine, and more emotional ups and downs than you bargained for. But as he shares later in the book, you need to get and stay grateful so that when you’re in the midst of a storm, you balance out the minuses with pluses – even if they seem small by comparison. For Sax, that means taking an afternoon off to paddleboard with a friend, making an annual tradition out of an August vacation with his parents and in-laws, and, most importantly, greater involvement in the lives of his two young children.

“Unless we have a mandatory meeting or I have to travel for research or speaking, we are there in the morning to stuff Cheerios into their screaming mouths and walk them to school, there to pick them up hours later, fight them into baths and beds, and kiss their sweet little heads good night,” he wrote. What wins does your own gig provide you, even on days that feel like a loss on the work front? How is working for yourself better than being a cog in the corporate machine? Merely asking yourself such questions will likely remind you of why you boldly went your own way in the first place, and keep you motivated to stay on the path even when the next steps seem uncertain.  

  • Remember Who it’s For

Most people know Daniel Lubetzky as the billionaire founder of KIND and a guest judge on Shark Tank. But long before he built a business empire or was sitting on a TV set alongside Mark Cuban, Daymond John, and Kevin O’Leary, Lubetzky visited the Middle East and felt compelled to start a company that would bring reconciliation to at least a few people in the conflict-ridden region. Soon enough, he was pulling 12-to-14-hour days hawking gourmet condiments to grocery stores across New York. Each morning he’d load up a hefty briefcase with samples and traipse all over town to try and place products, returning long after dark to his makeshift storeroom (a corner of the basement laundry room in his apartment building) with nothing to show other than further rejections. Discouraged by the drudgery and continual violence in the countries he was trying to serve, Lubetzky began to doubt if all the effort was worth it and seriously considered returning to the legal career he’d studied for.

“I wondered if it was a modern mirage, if what I was doing could really make a difference,” he said in an interview with Stanford Lawyer. When Lubetzky talked to his suppliers in Israel, Palestine, and Egypt, they implored him to continue on his mission to bring reconciliation in the Middle East through commerce. “They said, ‘This is our livelihood; this is our future. You can’t just walk away. We need to raise our voices even louder and stand up against extremism even more.’ It was an interesting wake-up call for me—and made me realize that people’s lives depended on this. It wasn’t just a paper for a class. I needed to be steadfast and serious.”

So Lubetzky went back out on his grueling door-to-door route again and again, kept sacrificing by sometimes only eating one meal a day at a cheap buffet, and secured backing from two childhood friends who believed in his vision. He eventually got a major grocery store to stock his spreads and parlayed this into over 200 more, enough to keep his multinational, interfaith workforce employed. The experience also proved the validity of Lubetzky’s purpose-first blueprint, which he used to build KIND and the other ventures that followed.  

You might not be trying to use your business to bring warring cultures together, but it’s likely that there’s someone or something meaningful that your venture serves other than the bottom line. Maybe it’s doing right by your suppliers and employees, contributing to your community by creating local jobs, or simply providing for your family. Whenever adversity strikes, keep these people and purposes in mind and resolve to keep fighting hard for all the right reasons.